We've all heard horror stories about stuck tampons, which, if left in for too long, have links to Toxic Shock Syndrome. But what actually happens when you go to a doctor to have one removed? Is there a way to get one out yourself? We asked Dr Deborah Lee, a sexual and reproductive health specialist, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, who has plenty of experience in this particular field to explain (and remember, taking charge of your health is never something to feel embarrassed about).
Can a tampon get stuck?
First thing's first: yes, it can. "It’s not uncommon to see patients in the sexual health clinic with a forgotten tampon and it's nothing to be ashamed of," Dr Lee says, adding that sometimes people aren't always aware that they're experiencing symptoms because of a rogue tampon either. "Most commonly they attend complaining of smelly vaginal discharge. The smell is usually pretty foul – once smelt never forgotten."
She believes that many women use two tampons during a heavy flow, then remove one and by mistake, the other gets left behind. "It’s not only tampons which get forgotten either, I have removed contraceptive caps, pieces of split condoms, whole condoms, and even a strange metal object which turned out to be the washer from a lady's shower-head."
How does a doctor remove a stuck tampon?
Firstly, you'll be asked to lie on the couch on your back in the usual position for a gynae examination, stripped off from the waist down. "The examination begins by the doctor or nurse gently inserting a speculum (similar to one used during a smear test, that looks like a duck's beak) into the vagina," explains Dr Lee. "Usually you can easily see the tampon lodged in there, then it can be simply removed with sponge forceps." The tampon may be centrally positioned in front of your cervix, or it may be squashed in one or other side of the cervix, called the vaginal fornix. "We might take a swab at this point. Then, using a pair of long-handled forceps to grasp the end of the tampon, it can be removed." Most women recover very quickly and won't need antibiotics.
Does having a stuck tampon hurt?
If the tampon has been in there for some time, it may be causing discomfort, although most are painless. "The removal may be uncomfortable when the speculum is inserted, but most patients cope very well with the process," notes Dr Lee. "Some patients are very worried and think it may have been there for some time. When it's removed, they feel huge, instant relief."
Can a tampon get lost inside you?
No, it’s not possible to lose a tampon inside your body. "A tampon cannot go up inside you and disappear in the depths of your pelvis or abdomen," says Dr Lee. "The vaginal walls and the cervix seal off the vagina so this could never happen. So, don’t be scared of that." She also explains that while some women feel unconfident about their female anatomy and worry about sticking their fingers in their own vagina, you won't do yourself any major harm by doing this.
If you want to remove a tampon yourself, you can either do it sitting on the toilet or standing with one foot up on the toilet bowl. "Wash your hands first. Part the labia with one hand and insert one or two fingers upwards and backwards as far as they can go," says Dr Lee. "You may be able to grasp either the whole tampon, or the threads, and you can then gently pull it out."
You don’t always have to go to the doctor – however, if you’ve tried in vain, it's time to make that appointment. While the vast majority of women with forgotten tampons won't develop a serious infection like Toxic Shock Syndrome, it's always best to err on the side of caution.
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